“Fundamentally, we’re not prepared,” said Kurt Campbell, chairman of the Asia Group, at the inaugural conference of the Chey Institute for Advanced Studies in Seoul on Feb. 14.
Campbell was part of a panel discussion titled “US-China-Korea Trilateral Conference: Northeast Asia in Transition” along with fellow panelists Edwin Feulner, founder of the Heritage Foundation, and professor Jia Qungguo of Peking University. The question under discussion was what would lead the US-North Korea summit -- slated for Feb. 27-28 in Hanoi, Vietnam -- to success.
“My biggest worry is not a lack of progress or a road map but an imprudent step taken at the last minute that’s not well vetted,” Kurt said at one point, referring to “concessions taken or positions advanced that are not well vetted in the bureaucracy.”
The two countries have pursued fast-paced working-level talks in Washington and Pyongyang in recent weeks, with the aim of nailing down logistics and agenda topics for the summit. These include what steps North Korea will take toward nuclear disarmament and what the US will offer in return.
Feulner emphasized the need for “measurable specifics,” such as dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear facility and other test sites, to ensure that North Korea is genuinely committed to denuclearization.
“It has to be real, concrete steps in terms of the denuclearization, in terms of eliminating specific facilities that enable them to develop the weapons systems that they have, specifically,” Feulner said when asked to elaborate.
Campbell, who served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs under the Obama administration, shared a similarly skeptical outlook.
“It would be great to get a road map that lays out all the specific things that both countries would commit to do. I’m not sure we’re going to get there,” he said.
“What I would like to avoid is a circumstance that … without an appropriate set of consultations … that we would somehow either end certain military exercises or pull US forces off the peninsula, and I would say that there’s a very real risk of it.”
For his part, Jia said the situation “doesn’t look very promising at the moment” because Kim Jong-un is unlikely to give up his nuclear weapons without the necessary package of incentives -- for example, clear security guarantees and significant economic assistance.
He said there was a need for talks among South Korea, Japan and China to discuss what incentives they could offer the North.
“In order to do that … you need to have a multilateral approach. You need other countries, other stakeholders, to get involved. So far we don’t see a lot of consultation in this regard,” Jia said.
Feulner raised the possibility of setting up an escrow account with funds “that could released in tranches” in return for specific steps taken by North Korea.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org)